Encores! Closes 25th Season with Rollicking Me and My Girl Starring Christian Borle and Laura Michelle Kelly
By: Ellis Nassour
May 9, 2018: Hello, Dolly! at the Shubert may have audiences humming up the aisles, but Encores! 25th Season closer Me and My Girl at City Center, through May 13, has the cast dancing in the aisles and everyone doing the infectious “The Lambeth Walk.” This revival, with Tony winner Warren Carlyle directing and choreographing, of the show that was the 1937 toast of the West has a great score by British hit maker Noel Gay [real name: Richard Armitage] and enough wise-cracking one-liners to keep you laughing for weeks.
The musical was unwrapped out of moth balls in 1984 on the West End, and arrived two years later on Broadway (Tony nomination, Best Musical). The book, part slapstick antics, part stinging commentary on the British upper class and lyrics, are by L. Arthur Rose and Douglas Furber. Gay’s score pays high tribute to the British Music Hall tradition.
Two-time Tony winner Christian Borle (Falsettos, Something Rotten) literally seems born to the manor his character, cockney East Ender Bill Snibson inherits. His adroit comic timing and dancing are impeccable (Tony winner, After Midnight; currently Hello, Dolly!) has well chosen Olivier Award-winning Laura Michelle Kelly (Finding Neverland,) as the girl of the title.
She and Borle, reunited after their Mary and Bert well into the run of Mary Poppins, have great chemistry. She’s the one “Me” won’t let go of when he inherits millions and a title – in spite of the determined machinations of Duchess Maria, brilliantly portrayed by Harriet Harris, to get him to choose a suitable mate; and the temptations of lascivious (She’s No) Lady Jaqueline, played by long-legged beauty Lisa O’Hare (Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder).
Bill has a lot of help from Sir John, Chuck Cooper (Tony winner, The Life; Prince of Broadway), and, thanks to 1984 script revisions by Stephen Fry and director Mike Ockrent for the West End revival, his friend Henry Higgins. Golden-voiced Cooper gets ample opportunity to strut his rarely seen comic skills.
Co-starring in the cast of 31, Bill Buell, Mark Evans (The Play That Goes Wrong – who knew he could sing and dance?), John Horton, Simon Jones (Farinelli and the King, many more), and, stealing scenes as his DNA seemingly demands, the irrepressible Don Stephenson as the family solicitor.
Carlyle’s has created a stunning sequence, a tribute to the style of Gene Kelly, that showcases Borle’s debonair side in “Leaning on a Lampost”; and generates huge laughs with Borle and Cooper’s duet, “Love Makes the World Go Round.” Kelly’s big moment comes by way of the poignant ballad “Once You Lose Your Heart,” which became a massive hit for the composers.
The choreography boasts ballroom, tap, and, why the heck not, some contemporary high-kicks courtesy of O’Hare. As always, Carlyle has assembled a winning dance ensemble. There are two memorable show-stoppers: the Act One finale “The Lambeth Walk” [which launched a 30s craze], with Busker costuming and spoons and anything else he could pull out of his hat (including having his dancers have way up the aisles and across center orchestra); and the Act Two opener, “The Sun Has Got His Hat On,” led by dashing Evans.
This Encores!, with the cast off book, is so polished it feels like a true Broadway production. As with all the City Center concert stagins, it was assembled with less than two weeks of rehearsal, so kudos to Carlyle, assistant choreographer Sara Edwards Butler, and assistant director Kasey Graham.
One of the joys of any Encores! is the nearly-30 strong orchestra under the direction of music director Rob Berman. They certainly don’t disappoint with the rousing overture, entr’acte, the Act One finale and the Act Two opener.
Encores! Me and My Girl plays through Sunday. For performance times, visit www.NYCityCenter.org. Tickets, from $30-$130, are available at the City Center box office, through CityTix at (212) 581-1212, and online at www.NYCityCenter.org.